Portrait d'une Femme
by Ezra Pound
Lines 22-26 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
The tarnished, gaudy, wonderful old work;
Idols and ambergris and rare inlays,
These are your riches, your great store; and yet
- Line 21 ended with a semicolon because line 22 gives us another clarification of (or elaboration on?) what "something else" might be. Like many objects we encountered earlier in the poem, it is something that has seen better days and has questionable value. It is "tarnished" and "old," not beautiful but "gaudy" (hmm…sounds like tacky, old jewelry).
- But the speaker still describes it as "wonderful." Be careful: "wonderful" doesn't just mean really good; it can also mean causing awe or astonishment. We can't be sure which meaning the speaker intends.
- The speaker specifically uses the word "work" here. Most likely he means "work" as in a "work of art" – an object that's manmade, produced through labor. But he might also mean "work" as an action, as in "doing work." It's harder to see how this kind of work could be tarnished or gaudy, but this is a poem, after all, and one that's filled with lots of figurative language.
- The speaker finally moves on from the "something else" that could be in the woman's tales to discuss, instead, what makes up her riches. And here's another list: idols, ambergris, and rare inlays.
- Idols are manmade representations of spirits and deities.
- Ambergris is a waxy secretion produced by a whale's digestive system (yuck!) that's mostly been used as an ingredient in perfume (double yuck! Luckily they don't really use it anymore, so no worries about spraying whale secretion all over yourself before a date.).
- Inlays are decorations you usually find on fancy furniture or vases – basically, pieces of shell, ivory, or horn are inserted along the surface of an object to make a decorative pattern. (Here's an example.)
- Notice how this list doesn't use commas or semicolons but instead goes for the straightforward "and." Any ideas about why?
For all this sea-hoard of deciduous things,
Strange woods half sodden, and new brighter stuff:
- Uh oh. With all this talk about riches, inlays, and gaudy stuff, we were sort of hoping things were looking up for this woman. Sure her things may be tarnished and old, but there's also something charming about them. Reading the last few lines felt like walking into those awesome cluttered antique shops that look like someone's forgotten attic.
- In Lines 25-26, however, the speaker basically says to the woman: "You may have all this stuff, but...". And we have a feeling this is going to be a real whammy of a "but."
- In these lines, we hear again all the things the woman keeps in her great store, only this time, the objects are translated into sea imagery. Yes, we're back there again.
- The phrase "sea-hoard" can have a double meaning. This hoard (a.k.a., supply or store) of things could be literally in the sea or from the sea. Or "sea" could be used figuratively here to mean that the hoard is as big as the sea.
- With our return to the sea, we also seem to have moved away from "work" and toward natural objects.
- You've probably heard the word "deciduous" used to describe trees or leaves; it refers to anything that sheds or falls off during a particular season.
- The speaker also describes pieces of wood floating around in the water. Sure that wood could have come from ships, furniture, and other manmade products, but now it's returned to being just plain wood.
- The word "strange" might connect the spars we saw in line 5 with the soggy wood we see here. Have the spars, fallen off their ships, decomposed into unidentifiable pieces of wood over the course of the poem?
- What is this "new brighter stuff"? This is an incredibly ambiguous phrase. Does it refer back to manmade objects, but this time newer ones? Does it refer to newly blossoming natural objects, or perhaps the sunlight shining against the water? Does it relate to the "bright ships" from line 3?